Steelers' defense regains some swagger in win over Bills
A week after surrendering a franchise-high 55 points to New England, the Steelers' defense came within a field goal and meaningless last-second touchdown of pitching a shutout against Buffalo on a cold, windy Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
The resurgent defense clamped down on one of the league's best ground games to make life miserable for rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. They tormented Manuel with a rejuvenated pass rush and were aided by the Bills' curious play-calling in the red zone en route to a 23-10 victory.
“There was no sense of redemption,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “It's (55 points) going to still be on our record, but we certainly took a step forward.”
The defense, which sacked Manuel three times and had five tackles behind the line of scrimmage, held the Bills to 95 yards rushing. More important, the defensive front controlled the trenches and influenced the Bills to throw on third-and-1 instead of pounding the ball at the NFL's 31st-ranked run defense.
“When you play the way the defensive line played today against the run, it helped with play-action passes because we didn't have to worry about the run,” said safety Ryan Clark, whose fourth-quarter interception led to a game-clinching field goal by Shaun Suisham.
The Bills, who last week amassed more than 400 yards of total offense against the Chiefs' top-rated defense, totaled only 227 yards.
Also, Buffalo couldn't take advantage of good field position on its first three possessions.
The Steelers' defense slammed the door each time, allowing only a 20-yard field goal for a 3-0 Buffalo lead after Jarius Byrd returned a Ben Roethlisberger interception to the Steelers' 29.
“It's the difference in the game when you give up only three points as opposed to seven — especially when they get into the red zone,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “We didn't have to run blitzes against their run, so we were able to stop them with our base packages, which allowed the guys on the back end to make plays.”
“It's not how you start but how you get off the field,” said Heyward, who recorded a sack for a second straight game after getting shut out in the previous seven. “We're going to be put in some tough situations, but fortunately we responded.”
The Bills aren't as explosive as the Patriots, but the Steelers' defense was in need of a shot of adrenaline after getting humbled in New England.
The Steelers insisted they didn't prepare any differently for the Bills than they did for New England. Yet, the Bills' offense appeared confused by a defensive game plan that kept the sometimes-elusive Manuel in the pocket and denied Buffalo's speedy receivers any room to catch the quick passes that usually ignite the air game.
Indeed, the Steelers' defense seemingly played with a sense of urgency.
“I like to think we have a sense of urgency no matter what the circumstances are,” Polamalu said. “We were able to stop the run, and when we can do that, we're at our best.”
The defense, too, didn't feel as much pressure because the offense stubbornly stuck with a ground game it had abandoned when falling behind this season.
“Whenever you run the ball and control the ball the way our offense was able to do, it gives you an opportunity to play solid defense,” Clark said. “We didn't have to press in any way to create plays. Everyone was able to do their jobs.”